One of the biggest changes coming to the science classroom
nationwide are the new Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).
One of the main concepts in 3D learning are the cross cutting concepts. One of the common threads is a link to the Common Core Standards for math and ELA.
One lesson I have integrated into my teaching recently is the research paper for science students. I wanted to share with you the five key points to making the lesson work.
Use Google Docs and Google Classroom if possible. One of the nice features in Google Docs is the function for setting up term papers in MLA Format as shown below: Google Classroom
Check with ELA teachers in your school to find out what resources they use to help the students set up their term papers in MLA format. Try to use common materials throughout the school if possible.
Have the students submit their paper through Google Classroom. One of the nice features in Google Classroom is the comment feature.
You can highlight the passages in the student’s paper that needs correcting and make comments. Also grades are submitted directly to the student and can be downloaded in a spreadsheet.
Last, but not least, Google Classroom keeps a timestamp for submission and tracks student changes to the document. This is a great tool to keep students on the straight and narrow
One of the biggest mistakes I made when I first started to assign research papers was to assume that students knew how to write using textual citations and MLA format.
The first thing you should do is to speak with the ELA teachers who have your students and find out what the students have been taught regarding research papers and cited materials.
After you have determined their level of knowledge you can design a lesson to help your students meet the requirements for your assignment.
Make sure you give them the tools needed to review the material they have already learned.
The worst disaster I had when I assigned a research paper on the impact of density on natural phenomena was to let the students chose the phenomena they wanted to use to support their ideas.
Another disaster was when I assigned a paper on Natural Resources this year and let the students pick their topic. I had 28 papers on oil, one on coal and one on natural gas.
The best thing I did for the next project on climate change was to provide the students with a list of topics.
I had the students sign up for their topic and only allowed two students per topic. Using a list of 30 ideas with a class of 30, provides room for students to change their topic if they are having difficulty with the first topic they chose.
Many of the ELA teachers provide the students with a grid type rubric that leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Their goals are very different from the Science Teacher’s goals.
Although we are both trying to improve the student’s writing skills, science teachers are more focused on the content of the paper. That is why I use a point by point rubric to grade the paper. I assign points for each section with a breakdown of how they can earn the maximum points possible. I always include a section for formatting, grammar and overall paper quality.
Finally, make sure you emphasize that you will not accept a paper without proper citations and work cited. Your ELA colleagues will thank you.
One of the biggest parent complaints I see as a department chair comes from teachers piling on the work without taking into consideration the student’s work load in other classes. Teachers complain that they do not have time to check with all of their colleagues to see when they are assigning work. They are right!
Unless you work in teams or have a common prep, meeting with other teachers during the day is tough if not impossible. SO what is the answer?
Speak to the students. Ask them what major assignments they have coming up. Throw out a due date and ask them if it is good with them. Make sure you make it sooner than what you really want. Then get the students to make a deal with you as to when it would be good to turn it in on time. This eliminates any complaints about piling on work.
Students are happy, parents are happy and you will most likely get the date you want within a day or two.
Every good lesson should always have basic elements such as planned assessments, resources for students and structured deadlines. These five elements cover the basic outline which I have developed, through trial and error, to create an effective writing assignments in the science classroom.
As Next Generation Science Standards are implemented around the country, we will have to find more and more creative ways to have students become life long learners and critical thinkers.
The best way to achieve this is to give them the tools to scrutinize facts and data in order to make decisions for themselves. You can start by structuring lessons designed to teach them how to read and write properly.
Jon Decker, Sr. is a High School Science Teacher and Science Department Chairperson at Monroe Woodbury High School in Central Valley, New York.
Central Valley is located about 60 miles North of New York City in the lower Hudson Valley.
Jon has been a classroom teacher for the past 20 years. He is a graduate of the State University of New York at New Paltz with a Bachelors Degree in Environmental Geology and a Masters Degree in Education.
He has been married to his lovely wife Roseann for over 30 years and he is a father and grandfather. He is a native to the Hudson Valley and has lived in Saugerties, New York, for the past 30 years.
Jon enjoys writing, theater, music, art, hiking and spending time with his family.